The Division of Fishes traces its origin back almost as far as The Field Museum itself. Ichthyology began under the leadership of assistant curator Oliver Perry Hay in 1894. Hay, while primarily interested in North American fossil vertebrates, started the fish collection. In 1897, Hay was replaced by Seth Eugene Meek. Meek began the Museum's long-term commitment to the collection of and research on Neotropical fishes. While Meek and his collaborators made extensive collections across Middle and northern South America, he is best known for his pioneering work on the freshwater fishes of Mexico and Panama (with Samuel F. Hildebrand). After the passing of Meek in 1914, a young Carl L. Hubbs was hired as an assistant curator in the Division of Ichthyology and Herpetology in 1917. During his brief career in Chicago (ending in 1920) and later at The University of Michigan and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Carl Hubbs would go on to publish more than 700 scientific articles and be elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.
In 1921, the Division of Ichthyology and Herpetology, along with the other zoological divisions, anglicized its name to the Division of Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles and hired Alfred Cleveland Weed as its new assistant curator. Weed explored and published across the diversity of fishes, frequently publishing pamphlets and books aimed at educating the public about the biology of fishes. This focus on educating the public about fishes also manifested itself in his efforts to improve fish-related exhibits at the Museum. Other important endeavors included his participation in one of the early marine ichthyological explorations of Greenland in the late 1920s. Weed ended his career at The Field Museum as a full curator in the revamped Division of Fishes in 1942. Around the time of Weed's departure, Fishes expanded by promoting Loren P. Woods from previous staff positions in Education and Fishes to assistant curator in 1941 and making then volunteer, Marion Grey, an associate in 1943. Woods would be at the helm of Fishes for the next 37 years except for a four-year period (1943-1946) when Marion Grey led the department while Woods served in the Navy during World War II. Grey would go on to publish 15 papers, principally on deep-water fishes, during her 22 years at The Field Museum. During this time, current curator emeritus, Robert F. Inger, spent a short time (1949-1953) as an assistant curator of fishes before moving over permanently to Amphibians and Reptiles. After returning from the Navy, Woods participated in numerous marine collections to the Indian Ocean, western Atlantic, southeastern Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. These extensive marine collections greatly expanded what had been a primarily freshwater collection. From these collections, Woods' scientific endeavors would lead him to publications on both freshwater and marine groups, but he is most remembered for his work on the damselfishes (Pomacentridae) and the squirrelfishes, alfonsinos, and nannygais (Berycoidei). Woods retired from the Field Museum after 40 years of service in 1978.
Before Woods retired, Fishes hired Robert K. Johnson in 1972 to further research and collection efforts on marine fishes. While at the Museum, Johnson initially focused on the systematics of deep-sea fishes, primarily from the Aulopiformes (lizardfishes and allies) and Chiasmodontidae (swallowers). In 1975, Johnson traveled with several colleagues, primarily Dave Greenfield of Northern Illinois University (NIU), to the coast of Honduras. This trip began Johnson's long association with Greenfield that would lead to his adjunct appointment at NIU and numerous collection trips to Belize and Honduras that led to numerous papers on the ecology and systematics of reef fishes and tremendous collections. In addition to his appointment at NIU, Johnson had an adjunct appointment at the University of Chicago. It was this love of teaching that led Johnson to leave The Field Museum for a professorial position at the College of Charleston in 1986. Johnson always placed a large emphasis on service to his institution and his primary scientific society, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH). At The Field Museum, Johnson served as Chair of Zoology and played a major role in expeditions for members, including tours to the Gulf of California, Honduras, and Alaska. His tremendous service efforts were later recognized by the creation of the Robert K. Johnson Award for Exceptional Service after his untimely death in 2000. This ASIH award is given annually in his honor. Following Woods retirement, Donald J. Stewart was hired in 1979 to continue The Field Museum's excellence in Neotropical freshwater fishes. From 1978 to 1985, Stewart made extensive collections in South America, particularly expeditions to Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Stewart is best known for his systematic work on armored catfishes (Loricarioidei) and the endangered Arapaima. His research interests remain in the ecology, conservation, and management of freshwater systems in South, Central, and North America in his current post as a professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.
Following the departure of Stewart and Johnson, Barry Chernoff was hired from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1987 to continue his work on Neotropical silversides (Atheriniformes) and tetras (Characiformes). In addition to substantive Neotropical fish collections (including several Aqua-RAPs with the Museum's ECCo: Environment, Culture, and Conservation program), Chernoff spearheaded efforts for the computerization of the Fishes collection. With support from the institution and the National Science Foundation (NSF BSR-9012652, 1991-1994 and NSF DEB-9407568, 1994-1997), Fishes was able to complete data capture and verification in a MUSE database. In addition to his efforts within Fishes, Chernoff also served as Chair of Zoology before his departure from the Museum in 2002 to take a faculty position in Biology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Since the early 1990s, The Division of Fishes has seen a number of changes to our collection management practices with the movement of specimen catalogs from pen and paper to electronic databases, the physical movement of the entire Fishes collection (now in the Collections Resource Center), and the ever increasing challenges associated with the loaning and shipping of specimens. The Fishes professional staff has guided the division through these advances as well as maintaining and caring for more than 1,700,000 specimens. Collection Manager Mary Anne Rogers (1989-2010) oversaw the creation of the fish collection database, the migration of the entire database from MUSE to EMu, and the move of the entire collection to the Collection Resource Center. Rogers was instrumental in the creation of a diversity of Fishes procedures and polices relating to the care and handling of specimens and the shipment of loans according to IATA rules. Collections Assistant Kevin Swagel joined the museum in 1984 and eventually found a home in Fishes (1991-present). Swagel has now managed Fishes for more than 20 years. Swagel has been responsible for the day-to-day running of the division, including countless important duties ranging from the maintenance of the budget, to coordinating visitors, to ensuring the long-term stability of the Museum collections. As an all-around naturalist, Swagel combines his expertise with fishes with an intimate knowledge of birds and plants, often making collections across multiple zoological divisions and Museum departments. More recently, Swagel was part of the Fishes contingent that made deep-sea fish and invertebrate collection off of San Diego. Philip Willink (2002-2010) started at The Field Museum as a post-doctoral fellow working with Barry Chernoff on the Aquatic Rapid Assessment Program in South America, and he eventually transitioned into an Assistant Collection Manager position. During his time at the Museum, Willink continued our Neotropical collection and research efforts and really established a Chicago-based field program. Willink began studying Wolf Lake in southeast Chicago, and he was able to trace the species composition through time and human development. He also created ties to local researchers from the Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers. Through these efforts, he published a Fieldiana on the Fishes of Will County and is now working on the fishes of Chicago proper. As a collection manager, Willink's largest contributions were with the building of collections, identifying specimens in the backlog, spearheading efforts to process new collections, training students, volunteers, and staff in the identification of fishes, and the development of methods associated with digital photography and the Fishes image database.
In 2007, Chris Jones (2007-2011) and Susan Mochel transitioned from volunteers in Fishes to Collections Assistants. Together, they have worked on a number of projects, culminating in their project to photograph representatives of all of the nominal types included in the Fishes collections and their participation in the 2010 deep-sea fish expedition off of California. During his tenure, Jones has primarily focused on the identification of fishes in the division's backlog, identifying thousands of lots from localities ranging from Brazilian freshwaters to the Solomon Islands to Taiwan and Japan. Jones has also participated or led Museum efforts to collect fishes around Chicago, in Honduras, in Taiwan, and in the San Diego Trough. Mochel has spearheaded Fishes efforts to process dried skeletons, including being primarily responsible for our team of extraordinary volunteers. Mochel has also been primarily responsible for loan and collection database management. With the departure of Willink and Jones, Mochel and Swagel will continue to expand their roles into collection processing and specimen identification.
In 1991, Mark Westneat was hired to continue expanding marine collections and to add a functional morphological component to The Field Museum's research program. Westneat has made substantive marine collections from the East coast of the United States and the Juan Fernández Islands as well as a large series of coral-reef collections in the Indo-Pacific: Australia, the Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Thailand. Westneat spearheaded Fishes' efforts to begin the collection of tissue samples for genetic research and the analysis of molecular data. Westneat also oversaw the migration of the Fishes database from MUSE into KEMu and the movement of the entire fish collection to the Collections Resource Center. Beginning in 2007, Westneat started as full-time director of the Encyclopeida of Life's Biodiversity Synthesis Center, which is an initiative dedicated to advancing biodiversity science through diverse meetings, workshops, research programs, and outreach. In 2013, Westneat left The Field Museum for a professorial position at the University of Chicago.
In 2007, Leo Smith joined The Field Museum and further developed the marine and freshwater collections of The Field Museum. Smith's research expanded the molecular and comparative anatomical research programs in the division and the incorporation of the tissue collection into the Fishes database. Smith's collection efforts focused on shallow and deep-water collections off Taiwan and a benthic and midwater trawling expedition in the San Diego Trough. In 2013 Smith left The Field Museum for a professorial position at the University of Kansas.
In 2014, Caleb McMahan was hired as Collections Manager of Fishes. McMahan studies the evolution and biogeography of Neotropical fishes and continues building on this strength of the Fishes collection at The Field Museum. His work adds to the division's voucher specimen and tissue collections, with efforts focused on Central America and Mexico.